Walmart making changes for new era of retail
This year has ushered in a new era of retail, and customers are asking for retailers to show up differently.
"We have an amazing set of assets that have us well prepared for this next era, but we can’t stop there," said John Crecelius, senior vice president of associate product and next generation stores. "We’re moving quickly to use our physical retail stores to not only serve in-store shoppers, but to flex to meet the needs of online shoppers, too, in ways that only Walmart can. That’s where our new test stores come in. Their purpose is to find solutions that help our stores operate as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry."
The company identified four stores across the country to serve as test centers where it will continuously rotate new technology, digital tools and physical enhancements in and out of the stores all with the intention of helping associates better and more easily serve customers. Two are up and running with two more to come.
"To increase the speed at which we learn, product and technology teams will be embedded in the stores to prototype, test and iterate solutions in real time, scaling what works and scrapping what doesn’t, creating a true rapid prototype environment," said Crecelius.
Some of what the company tests will be visible to customers and some of it won’t. Regardless, Walmart said it’s the customer who will benefit. Here are a few examples of what will be tested.
- Omni-assortment – Not everything stocked in stores today can be found online. In the first test store, Walmart is moving most of the in-store apparel assortment online, and it will continue to identify other hard-to-manage categories that it can work to make available. By doing so, the company hopes to learn what it takes to make all eligible items in the store truly omni– available for customers online and in the store.
- Inventory speed – Walmart recently developed an app that speeds up the time it takes to get items from the backroom to the sales floor. Instead of scanning each box individually, associates just hold up a handheld device, and the app uses augmented reality to highlight the boxes that are ready to go. Product gets on the shelf faster – something that is increasingly important.
- First-time pick rate – The company is currently testing how it can use a combination of in-store signage and handheld devices to help associates navigate to the right locations when picking items for an online order. So far, this simple change has reduced the time it takes associates to find the items. In fact, the percentage of times associates find the item on their first attempt has gone up by 20 percent in some of the categories that tend to be the hardest to pick. What this means for customers is that their orders get filled faster.
- Checkout experience – These stores will continue to build upon a new experimental checkout experience Walmart introduced earlier this year to help transform a transactional experience into a relational one. Walmart will continue to test different hardware and software solutions focused on enhancing, and even re-imagining, a contact-free checkout experience for customers.
In this new era of retail, assets that used to serve a single purpose will transform into flexible, scalable assets that can be used in multiple ways to serve customers how, when and where they need. Evolving stores is just the beginning. "In the coming weeks and months, we’ll share more about how we’re reimagining our other physical assets to better serve the needs of customers today and into the future," said Crecelius.